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  • richardmitnick 3:12 pm on October 17, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Quantum Mechanics,   

    From Perimeter: “The Last Gasp of a Black Hole” 

    Perimeter Institute
    Perimeter Institute

    October 17, 2014
    No Writer Credit

    New research from Perimeter shows that two of the strangest features of quantum mechanicsentanglement and negative energy – might be two faces of one coin.

    Quantum mechanics is, notoriously, weird. Take entanglement: when two or more particles are entangled, their states are linked together, no matter how far apart they go.

    If the idea makes your classical mind twitch, you’re in good company. At the heart of everything, according to quantum mechanics, nature has a certain amount of irreducible jitter. Even nothing – the vacuum of space – can jitter, or as physicists say, fluctuate. When it does, a particle and its anti-particle can pop into existence.

    For example, an electron and an anti-electron (these are called positrons) might pop into existence out of the vacuum. We know that they each have a spin of one half, which might be either up or down. We also know that these particles were created from nothing and so, to balance the books, the total spin must add up to zero. Finally, we know that the spin of either particle is not determined until it is measured.

    So suppose the electron and the positron fly apart a few metres or a few light years, and then a physicist comes by to measure the spin of, say, the electron. She discovers that the electron is spin up, and in that moment, the electron becomes spin up. Meanwhile, a few metres or a few light years away, the positron becomes spin down. Instantly. That is the strangeness of quantum entanglement.

    Negative energy is less well known than entanglement, but no less weird. It begins with the idea – perhaps already implied by the positron and electron popping out of nowhere – that empty space is not empty. It is filled with quantum fields, and the energy of those fields can fluctuate a little bit.

    In fact, the energy of these fields can dip under the zero mark, albeit briefly. When that happens, a small region of space can, for a short span of time, weigh less than nothing – or at least less than the vacuum. It’s a little bit like finding dry land below sea level.

    Despite their air of strangeness, entanglement and negative energy are both well-explored topics. But now, new research, published as a Rapid Communication in Physical Review D, is hinting that these two strange phenomena may be linked in a surprising way.

    The work was done by Perimeter postdoctoral fellow Matteo Smerlak and former postdoc Eugenio Bianchi (now on the faculty at Penn State and a Visiting Fellow at Perimeter). “Negative energy and entanglement are two of the most striking features of quantum mechanics,” says Smerlak. “Now, we think they might be two sides of the same coin.”

    Perimeter Postdoctoral Researcher Matteo Smerlak

    Perimeter Visiting Fellow Eugenio Bianchi

    Specifically, the researchers proved mathematically that any external influence that changes the entanglement of a system in its vacuum state must also produce some amount of negative energy. The reverse, they say, is also true: negative energy densities can never be produced without entanglement being directly affected.

    At the moment, the result only applies to certain quantum fields in two dimensions – to light pulses travelling up and down a thin cable, for instance. And it is with light that the Perimeter researchers hope that their new idea can be directly tested.

    “Some quantum states which have negative energy are known, and one of them is called a ‘squeezed state,’ and they can be produced in the lab, by optical devices called squeezers,” says Smerlak. The squeezers manipulate light to produce an observable pattern of negative energy.

    Remember that Smerlak and Bianchi’s basic argument is that if an external influence affects vacuum entanglement, it will also release some negative energy. In a quantum optics setup, the squeezers are the external influence.

    Experimentalists should be able to look for the correlation between the entanglement patterns and the negative energy densities which this new research predicts. If these results hold up – always a big if in brand new work – and if they can make the difficult leap from two dimensions to the real world, then there will be startling implications for black holes.

    Like optical squeezers, black holes also produce changes in entanglement and energy density. They do this by separating entangled pairs of particles and preferentially selecting the ones with negative energy.

    Remember that the vacuum is full of pairs of particles and antiparticles blinking into existence. Under normal circumstances, they blink out again just as quickly, as the particle and the antiparticle annihilate each other. But just at a black hole’s event horizon, it sometimes happens that one of the particles is sucked in, while the other escapes. The small stream of escaping particles is known as Hawking radiation.

    By emitting such radiation, black holes slowly give up their energy and mass, and eventually disappear. Black hole evaporation, as the process is known, is a hot topic in physics. This new research has the potential to change the way we think about it.

    “In the late stages of the evaporation of a black hole, the energy released from the black hole will turn negative,” says Smerlak. And if a black hole releases negative energy, then its total energy goes up, not down. “It means that the black hole will shrink and shrink and shrink – for zillions of years – but in the end, it will release its negative energy in a gasp before dying. Its mass will briefly go up.”

    Call it the last gasp of a black hole.

    See the full article here.

    About Perimeter

    Perimeter Institute is a leading centre for scientific research, training and educational outreach in foundational theoretical physics. Founded in 1999 in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, its mission is to advance our understanding of the universe at the most fundamental level, stimulating the breakthroughs that could transform our future. Perimeter also trains the next generation of physicists through innovative programs, and shares the excitement and wonder of science with students, teachers and the general public.

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  • richardmitnick 11:15 am on October 15, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Loop Quantum Gravity, , Quantum Gravity, Quantum Mechanics, , White Holes   

    From NOVA: “Are White Holes Real?” 



    Tue, 19 Aug 2014
    Maggie McKee

    Sailors have their krakens and their sea serpents. Physicists have white holes: cosmic creatures that straddle the line between tall tale and reality. Yet to be seen in the wild, white holes may be only mathematical monsters. But new research suggests that, if a speculative theory called loop quantum gravity is right, white holes could be real—and we might have already observed them.


    A white whole is, roughly speaking, the opposite of a black hole. “A black hole is a place where you can go in but you can never escape; a white hole is a place where you can leave but you can never go back,” says Caltech physicist Sean Carroll. “Otherwise, [both share] exactly the same mathematics, exactly the same geometry.” That boils down to a few essential features: a singularity, where mass is squeezed into a point of infinite density, and an event horizon, the invisible “point of no return” first described mathematically by the German physicist Karl Schwarzschild in 1916. For a black hole, the event horizon represents a one-way entrance; for a white hole, it’s exit-only.

    There is excellent evidence that black holes really exist, and astrophysicists have a robust understanding of what it takes to make one. To imagine how a white hole might form, though, we have to go out on a bit of an astronomical limb. One possibility involves a spinning black hole. According to [Albert] Einstein’s general theory of relativity, the rotation smears the singularity into a ring, making it possible in theory to travel through the swirling black hole without being crushed. General relativity’s equations suggest that someone falling into such a black hole could fall through a tunnel in space-time called a wormhole and emerge from a white hole that spits its contents into a different region of space or period of time.

    Though mathematical solutions to those equations exist for white holes, “they’re not realistic,” says Andrew Hamilton, an astrophysicist at the University of Colorado at Boulder. That is because they describe universes that contain only black holes, white holes and wormholes—no matter, radiation or energy. Indeed, previous research, including Hamilton’s, suggests that anything that falls into a spinning black hole will essentially plug up the wormhole, preventing the formation of a passage to a white hole.

    But there’s a light at the end of the wormhole, so to speak. General relativity, from which Hamilton draws his predictions, breaks down at a black hole’s singularity. “The energy density and the curvature become so large that classical gravity is not a good description of what’s happening there,” says Stephen Hsu, a physicist at Michigan State University in East Lansing. Perhaps a more complete model of gravity—one that works as well on the quantum scale as it does on large ones—would negate the instability and allow for white holes, he says.

    Indeed, a unified theory that merges gravity and quantum mechanics is one of the holy grails of contemporary physics. Applying one such theory, loop quantum gravity, to black holes, theorists Hal Haggard and Carlo Rovelli of Aix-Marseille University in France have shown that black holes could metamorphose into white holes via a quantum process. In July, they published their work online.

    Loop quantum gravity proposes that space-time is made up of fundamental building blocks shaped like loops. According to Haggard and Rovelli, the loops’ finite size prevents a dying star from collapsing all the way down into a point of infinite density, and the shrinking object rebounds into a white hole instead. This process may take just a few thousandths of a second, but thanks to the intense gravity involved, the effects of relativity make the transformation appear to take much, much longer to anyone watching from afar. That means that minuscule black holes born in the infant universe could “now be ready to pop off like firecrackers,” forming white holes, according to a report in Nature. Some of the explosions astronomers thought were supernovae may actually be the wails of newborn white holes.

    The black-to-white conversion could resolve a nettlesome conundrum known as the black hole information paradox. The notion that information can be destroyed is anathema in physics, and general relativity says that anything, including information, that falls into a black hole can never escape. These two statements are not at odds if black holes simply act as locked safes for any information they slurp up, but Stephen Hawking showed 40 years ago that black holes actually evaporate over time. That led to the disturbing possibility that the information contained within them could be lost too, triggering a debate that rages to this day.

    But if a black hole instead turns into a white hole, then “all the information is recovered,” says Haggard. “We are quite excited about this mechanism because it avoids so many of the thorny issues that surround this discussion.”

    The new work is preliminary, however, and it is far from clear whether loop quantum gravity is an accurate description of reality. The only glimpse we get of white holes might turn out to be those we model in labs and kitchen sinks. But Carroll says that’s okay. Just thinking about these possibly mythical cosmic creatures can improve physicists’ intuition, “even if the real world is messy and not like those exact situations,” he says. “That’s the way in which white holes are very useful.”

    See the full article here.

    NOVA is the highest rated science series on television and the most watched documentary series on public television. It is also one of television’s most acclaimed series, having won every major television award, most of them many times over.

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  • richardmitnick 3:55 pm on October 3, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Quantum Mechanics   

    From Princeton via Huff Post: “Physicists Observe New Particle That’s Also Its Own ‘Antiparticle'” 

    Princeton University
    Princeton University

    Huffington Post
    Macrina Cooper-White

    After decades of searching, physicists at Princeton University say they’ve observed an elusive particle that behaves both like matter and antimatter.

    Yes, the discovery is an exciting step forward for particle physics, but it may also help advance the creation of powerful quantum computers.

    Team not identifed

    In the early 20th century, as quantum theory emerged, scientists predicted that most common particles, like electrons, had mysterious “antimatter” counterparts with the same mass and opposite charge. Scientists even thought that if a particle came in contact with its “antiparticle,” the two would annihilate one another.

    Italian physicist Ettore Majorana first hypothesized in 1937 that one particle — called the “Majorana fermion” — could serve as its very own antimatter particle, and scientists have been searching for that particle ever since.

    An experiment revealing the atomic structure of an iron wire on a lead surface. The zoomed-in portion of the image depicts the probability of the wire containing the Majorana fermion. The image pinpoints the particle to the end of the wire, which is where it had been predicted to based on years of theoretical calculations.

    For their study, the Princeton researchers designed a simple experiment to observe what they call “emergent particles” which can be found within a material — rather than in the vacuum of a giant collider, where the Higgs boson was discovered.

    “This is more exciting and can actually be practically beneficial,” Ali Yazdani, a physics professor at the university who led the research team, said a written statement, “because it allows scientists to manipulate exotic particles for potential applications, such as quantum computing.”

    The researchers placed a thin, long chain of pure magnetic iron atoms on a superconductor made of lead. Then they cooled the materials to -457 degrees Fahrenheit and peered at them through a two-story-tall scanning-tunneling microscope. Just check out the video above.

    What did the researchers find? An electrically neutral signal at the ends of the iron wires, which is considered to be the “key signature” of the elusive Majorana fermion. The researchers say the fermion’s observed properties make it a good candidate for building quantum bits in computers.

    “One of the first steps in making a quantum computer is to make a quantum bit,” Yazdani said in an email to the Huffington Post, “The ideal quantum bit should [be] one that you can control but it does not interact with its environment, so as to be changed.”

    While other scientists find the study intriguing, many believe further research should be conducted to confirm the results.

    “We should keep in mind possible alternative explanations — even if there are no immediately obvious candidates,” Jason Alicea, a physicist at the California Institute of Technology, who did not participate in this research, told Scientific American.

    The research was published online on Oct. 2 in the journal Science.

    See the full article, with video, here.

    About Princeton: Overview

    Princeton University is a vibrant community of scholarship and learning that stands in the nation’s service and in the service of all nations. Chartered in 1746, Princeton is the fourth-oldest college in the United States. Princeton is an independent, coeducational, nondenominational institution that provides undergraduate and graduate instruction in the humanities, social sciences, natural sciences and engineering.

    As a world-renowned research university, Princeton seeks to achieve the highest levels of distinction in the discovery and transmission of knowledge and understanding. At the same time, Princeton is distinctive among research universities in its commitment to undergraduate teaching.

    Today, more than 1,100 faculty members instruct approximately 5,200 undergraduate students and 2,600 graduate students. The University’s generous financial aid program ensures that talented students from all economic backgrounds can afford a Princeton education.

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  • richardmitnick 9:33 pm on September 25, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Quantum Mechanics,   

    From physicsworld: “Photons weave their way through a triple slit” 


    Sep 25, 2014
    Hamish Johnston

    A flaw in how quantum-interference experiments are interpreted has been quantified for the first time by a team of physicists in India. Using the “path integral” formulation of quantum mechanics, the team calculated the interference pattern created when electrons or photons travel through a set of three slits. It found that non-classical paths – in which a particle can weave its way through several slits – must be considered along with the conventional quantum superposition of three direct paths (one through each of the slits). The team says the effect should be measurable in experiments involving microwave photons, and that the work could also provide insights into potential sources of decoherence in some quantum-information systems.

    Road less travelled: a photon weaves its way through three slits

    One of the cornerstones of quantum theory is the fact that particles can also behave as waves. This can be demonstrated by the double-slit experiment with electrons, which was once voted as the most beautiful physics experiment of all time by Physics World readers. It involves firing electrons through two adjacent slits and observing the build-up of a wave-like interference pattern on a screen on the other side of the slits. However, each particle is detected as a tiny dot within the pattern, suggesting that the particles are discrete entities too.

    Physics students are taught that the double-slit pattern can be explained by treating the system as a superposition of waves that travel through one slit and waves that travel through the other slit. Although this description reproduces the pattern seen in experiments, the Japanese physicist Haruichi Yabuki pointed out in 1986 that this approach is approximate because it ignores the tiny possibility that a particle could take a non-classical path through the slits.

    Quantum weaving

    These non-classical paths are easier to think of with an arrangement of three slits. A particle could go through, say, the slit on its left, curve around, go back through the centre slit before turning again and emerging from the slit on the right (see figure). Now, Urbasi Sinha and colleagues at the Raman Research Institute and Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore have calculated the effect of these non-classical paths on the resulting interference pattern of such a triple slit. Using the path-integral formulation of quantum mechanics, the team looked at different combinations of slit width and slit separation for both incident photons and electrons.

    In the case of electrons, the researchers worked out that the non-classical paths would have a minuscule effect on the observed pattern, which would deviate from a simple superposition by a factor of about 10–8. For visible light, this change increases to about 10–5, but this is still too small to detect. Indeed, the calculations explain why Sinha and colleagues at the University of Waterloo in Canada did not see any deviations in an optical triple-slit experiment done in 2010 (see “Quantum theory survives its latest ordeal“).

    Microwaveable deviation

    It turns out, however, that the deviation should rise to about 10–3 for microwave photons, and the team believes that it could be measured in an experiment using photons of wavelength 4 cm, a slit width of 120 cm and a slit separation of 400 cm. Indeed, Sinha told physicsworld.com that her team at the Raman Research Institute has already set up a microwave experiment to look for the effect, but could not comment on the preliminary results.

    Such an experiment, if carried out, could provide a room-sized demonstration of the path-integral formulation of quantum mechanics – something that is normally associated with sub-atomic processes. Furthermore, understanding the role of non-classical paths in interferometer-based quantum-information systems could help physicists reduce the destructive effects of noise in these systems.

    The research is described in Physical Review Letters.

    See the full article here.

    PhysicsWorld is a publication of the Institute of Physics. The Institute of Physics is a leading scientific society. We are a charitable organisation with a worldwide membership of more than 50,000, working together to advance physics education, research and application.

    We engage with policymakers and the general public to develop awareness and understanding of the value of physics and, through IOP Publishing, we are world leaders in professional scientific communications.
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  • richardmitnick 4:41 pm on September 20, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , Quantum Mechanics   

    From Princeton: “‘Solid’ light could compute previously unsolvable problems” 

    Princeton University
    Princeton University

    Sep 08, 2014
    John Sullivan

    Researchers at Princeton University have begun crystallizing light as part of an effort to answer fundamental questions about the physics of matter.

    The researchers are not shining light through crystal – they are transforming light into crystal. As part of an effort to develop exotic materials such as room-temperature superconductors, the researchers have locked together photons, the basic element of light, so that they become fixed in place.

    “It’s something that we have never seen before,” said Andrew Houck, an associate professor of electrical engineering and one of the researchers. “This is a new behavior for light.”

    The results raise intriguing possibilities for a variety of future materials. But the researchers also intend to use the method to address questions about the fundamental study of matter, a field called condensed matter physics.

    “We are interested in exploring – and ultimately controlling and directing – the flow of energy at the atomic level,” said Hakan Türeci, an assistant professor of electrical engineering and a member of the research team. “The goal is to better understand current materials and processes and to evaluate materials that we cannot yet create.”

    The team’s findings, reported online on Sept. 8 in the journal Physical Review X, are part of an effort to answer fundamental questions about atomic behavior by creating a device that can simulate the behavior of subatomic particles. Such a tool could be an invaluable method for answering questions about atoms and molecules that are not answerable even with today’s most advanced computers.


    In part, that is because current computers operate under the rules of classical mechanics, which is a system that describes the everyday world containing things like bowling balls and planets. But the world of atoms and photons obeys the rules of quantum mechanics, which include a number of strange and very counterintuitive features. One of these odd properties is called “entanglement” in which multiple particles become linked and can affect each other over long distances.

    The difference between the quantum and classical rules limits a standard computer’s ability to efficiently study quantum systems. Because the computer operates under classical rules, it simply cannot grapple with many of the features of the quantum world. Scientists have long believed that a computer based on the rules of quantum mechanics could allow them to crack problems that are currently unsolvable. Such a computer could answer the questions about materials that the Princeton team is pursuing, but building a general-purpose quantum computer has proven to be incredibly difficult and requires further research.

    Another approach, which the Princeton team is taking, is to build a system that directly simulates the desired quantum behavior. Although each machine is limited to a single task, it would allow researchers to answer important questions without having to solve some of the more difficult problems involved in creating a general-purpose quantum computer. In a way, it is like answering questions about airplane design by studying a model airplane in a wind tunnel – solving problems with a physical simulation rather than a digital computer.

    In addition to answering questions about currently existing material, the device also could allow physicists to explore fundamental questions about the behavior of matter by mimicking materials that only exist in physicists’ imaginations.

    To build their machine, the researchers created a structure made of superconducting materials that contains 100 billion atoms engineered to act as a single “artificial atom.” They placed the artificial atom close to a superconducting wire containing photons.

    By the rules of quantum mechanics, the photons on the wire inherit some of the properties of the artificial atom – in a sense linking them. Normally photons do not interact with each other, but in this system the researchers are able to create new behavior in which the photons begin to interact in some ways like particles.

    “We have used this blending together of the photons and the atom to artificially devise strong interactions among the photons,” said Darius Sadri, a postdoctoral researcher and one of the authors. “These interactions then lead to completely new collective behavior for light – akin to the phases of matter, like liquids and crystals, studied in condensed matter physics.”

    Türeci said that scientists have explored the nature of light for centuries; discovering that sometimes light behaves like a wave and other times like a particle. In the lab at Princeton, the researchers have engineered a new behavior.

    “Here we set up a situation where light effectively behaves like a particle in the sense that two photons can interact very strongly,” Türeci said. “In one mode of operation, light sloshes back and forth like a liquid; in the other, it freezes.”

    The current device is relatively small, with only two sites where an artificial atom is paired with a superconducting wire. But the researchers say that by expanding the device and the number of interactions, they can increase their ability to simulate more complex systems – growing from the simulation of a single molecule to that of an entire material. In the future, the team plans to build devices with hundreds of sites with which they hope to observe exotic phases of light such as superfluids and insulators.

    “There is a lot of new physics that can be done even with these small systems,” said James Raftery, a graduate student in electrical engineering and one of the authors. “But as we scale up, we will be able to tackle some really interesting questions.”

    Besides Houck, Türeci, Sadri and Raftery, the research team included Sebastian Schmidt, a senior researcher at the Institute for Theoretical Physics at ETH Zurich, Switzerland. Support for the project was provided by: the Eric and Wendy Schmidt Transformative Technology Fund; the National Science Foundation; the David and Lucile Packard Foundation; the U.S. Army Research Office; and the Swiss National Science Foundation.

    See the full article here.

    About Princeton: Overview

    Princeton University is a vibrant community of scholarship and learning that stands in the nation’s service and in the service of all nations. Chartered in 1746, Princeton is the fourth-oldest college in the United States. Princeton is an independent, coeducational, nondenominational institution that provides undergraduate and graduate instruction in the humanities, social sciences, natural sciences and engineering.

    As a world-renowned research university, Princeton seeks to achieve the highest levels of distinction in the discovery and transmission of knowledge and understanding. At the same time, Princeton is distinctive among research universities in its commitment to undergraduate teaching.

    Today, more than 1,100 faculty members instruct approximately 5,200 undergraduate students and 2,600 graduate students. The University’s generous financial aid program ensures that talented students from all economic backgrounds can afford a Princeton education.

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  • richardmitnick 4:25 pm on September 20, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Quantum Mechanics,   

    From phys.org: “UCI team is first to capture motion of single molecule in real time” 


    September 16, 2014
    No Writer Credit

    UC Irvine chemists have scored a scientific first: capturing moving images of a single molecule as it vibrates, or “breathes,” and shifts from one quantum state to another.


    The groundbreaking achievement, led by Ara Apkarian, professor of chemistry, and Eric Potma, associate professor of chemistry, opens a window into the strange realm of quantum mechanics – where nanoscopic bits of matter seemingly defy the logic of classical physics.

    A simplified view on fields of modern physics theories. Please note that from historical point of view, this diagram is very simplified. In fact, when quantum mechanics was originally formulated, it was applied to models whose correspondence limit was non-relativistic. Many attempts were made to merge quantum mechanics with special relativity with a covariant equation such as the [[w:Dirac equation|Dirac equation]]. In other days, the relativistic quantum mechanics is now abandoned in favour of the quantum theory of fields.

    This could lead to a wide variety of important applications, including lightning-fast quantum computers and uncrackable encryption of private messages. It also moves researchers a step closer to viewing the molecular world in action – being able to see the making and breaking of bonds, which controls biological processes such as enzymatic reactions and cellular dynamics.

    The August issue of Nature Photonics features this breakthrough as its cover story.

    “Our work is the first to capture the motion of one molecule in real time,” Apkarian said. While still images of single molecules have been possible since the 1980s, recording a molecule’s extremely rapid movements had proven elusive.

    In addition to using precisely tuned, ultrafast lasers and microscopes, the researchers had to equip the molecule with a tiny antenna consisting of two gold nanospheres in order to track its activity and record measurements over the course of an hour.

    When the many repeated measurements were averaged, an astonishing finding emerged: The molecule was oscillating from one quantum state to another.

    The scientists have produced a movie in which a small, glowing dot appears to emit pulses of bright light. “That’s the light broadcast from the antenna every time the molecule completes a cycle of its vibrational motion,” Apkarian said. “The bond moves at a rate of 1013 cycles per second – a million, million times 10 cycles in one second.” Making the movie was like freeze-frame photography with a very fast flash and repeating the measurement over and over again.

    Seeing a molecule as it moves is “essential to a deeper understanding of how it forms and breaks chemical bonds,” Potma said. “The aim of the present experiment was to demonstrate that we can capture a molecule in motion on its own timescale.”

    The next and even more ambitious goal is to acquire moving images of molecules in their natural environment without tethering them to an antenna. “Ultimately, we’d like to be able to [examine] a molecule … as it’s undergoing chemistry,” Apkarian said.

    See the full article here.

    About Phys.org in 100 Words

    Phys.org™ (formerly Physorg.com) is a leading web-based science, research and technology news service which covers a full range of topics. These include physics, earth science, medicine, nanotechnology, electronics, space, biology, chemistry, computer sciences, engineering, mathematics and other sciences and technologies. Launched in 2004, Phys.org’s readership has grown steadily to include 1.75 million scientists, researchers, and engineers every month. Phys.org publishes approximately 100 quality articles every day, offering some of the most comprehensive coverage of sci-tech developments world-wide. Quancast 2009 includes Phys.org in its list of the Global Top 2,000 Websites. Phys.org community members enjoy access to many personalized features such as social networking, a personal home page set-up, RSS/XML feeds, article comments and ranking, the ability to save favorite articles, a daily newsletter, and other options.

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  • richardmitnick 11:35 am on September 19, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Quantum Mechanics,   

    From phys.org: “Physical constant is constant even in strong gravitational fields” 


    September 19, 2014
    Ans Hekkenberg

    An international team of physicists has shown that the mass ratio between protons and electrons is the same in weak and in very strong gravitational fields. Their study, which was partly funded by the FOM Foundation, is published online on 18 September 2014 in Physical Review Letters.

    The idea that the laws of physics and its fundamental constants do not depend on local circumstances is called the equivalence principle. This principle is a cornerstone to [Albert] Einstein’s theory of general relativity. To put the principle to the test, FOM physicists working at the LaserLaB at VU University Amsterdam determined whether one fundamental constant, the mass ratio between protons and electrons , depends on the strength of the gravitational field that the particles are in.

    Picture of the laser system with which the hydrogen molecules were investigated on earth. Credit: LaserLaB VU University Amsterdam/Wim Ubachs

    Laboratories on earth and in space

    The researchers compared the proton-electron mass ratio near the surface of a white dwarf star to the mass ratio in a laboratory on Earth. White dwarfs stars, which are in a late stage of their life cycle, have collapsed to less than 1% of their original size. The gravitational field at the surface of these stars is therefore much larger than that on earth, by a factor of 10,000. The physicists concluded that even these strong gravitational conditions, the proton-electron mass ratio is the same within a margin of 0.005%. In both cases, the proton mass is 1836.152672 times as big as the electron mass.

    Absorption spectra

    To reach their conclusion, the Dutch physicists collaborated with astronomers of the University of Leicester, the University of Cambridge and the Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne. The team analysed absorption spectra of hydrogen molecules in white dwarf photospheres (the outer shell of a star from which light is radiated). The spectra were then compared to spectra obtained with a laser at LaserLaB in Amsterdam.

    Absorption spectra reveal which radiation frequencies are absorbed by a particle. A small deviation of the proton-electron mass ration would affect the structure of the molecule, and therefore the absorption spectrum as well. However, the comparison revealed that the spectra were very similar, which proves that the value of the proton-electron mass ratio is indeed independent of the strength of the gravitation field.


    FOM PhD student Julija Bagdonaite: “Previously, we confirmed the constancy of this fundamental constant on a cosmological time scale with the Very Large Telescope in Chile. Now we searched for a dependence on strong gravitational fields using the Hubble Space Telescope. Gradually we find that the fundamental constants seem to be rock-solid and eternal.”

    ESO VLT Interferometer

    NASA Hubble Telescope
    NASA/ESA Hubble

    See the full article here.

    About Phys.org in 100 Words

    Phys.org™ (formerly Physorg.com) is a leading web-based science, research and technology news service which covers a full range of topics. These include physics, earth science, medicine, nanotechnology, electronics, space, biology, chemistry, computer sciences, engineering, mathematics and other sciences and technologies. Launched in 2004, Phys.org’s readership has grown steadily to include 1.75 million scientists, researchers, and engineers every month. Phys.org publishes approximately 100 quality articles every day, offering some of the most comprehensive coverage of sci-tech developments world-wide. Quancast 2009 includes Phys.org in its list of the Global Top 2,000 Websites. Phys.org community members enjoy access to many personalized features such as social networking, a personal home page set-up, RSS/XML feeds, article comments and ranking, the ability to save favorite articles, a daily newsletter, and other options.

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  • richardmitnick 12:23 pm on September 12, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Quantum Mechanics   

    From M.I.T.: “Fluid mechanics suggests alternative to quantum orthodoxy” 

    MIT News

    September 12, 2014
    Larry Hardesty | MIT News Office

    New math explains dynamics of fluid systems that mimic many peculiarities of quantum mechanics.

    The central mystery of quantum mechanics is that small chunks of matter sometimes seem to behave like particles, sometimes like waves. For most of the past century, the prevailing explanation of this conundrum has been what’s called the “Copenhagen interpretation” — which holds that, in some sense, a single particle really is a wave, smeared out across the universe, that collapses into a determinate location only when observed.

    Close-ups of an experiment conducted by John Bush and his student Daniel Harris, in which a bouncing droplet of fluid was propelled across a fluid bath by waves it generated. Image: Dan Harris

    But some founders of quantum physics — notably Louis de Broglie — championed an alternative interpretation, known as “pilot-wave theory,” which posits that quantum particles are borne along on some type of wave. According to pilot-wave theory, the particles have definite trajectories, but because of the pilot wave’s influence, they still exhibit wavelike statistics.

    John Bush, a professor of applied mathematics at MIT, believes that pilot-wave theory deserves a second look. That’s because Yves Couder, Emmanuel Fort, and colleagues at the University of Paris Diderot have recently discovered a macroscopic pilot-wave system whose statistical behavior, in certain circumstances, recalls that of quantum systems.

    Couder and Fort’s system consists of a bath of fluid vibrating at a rate just below the threshold at which waves would start to form on its surface. A droplet of the same fluid is released above the bath; where it strikes the surface, it causes waves to radiate outward. The droplet then begins moving across the bath, propelled by the very waves it creates.

    “This system is undoubtedly quantitatively different from quantum mechanics,” Bush says. “It’s also qualitatively different: There are some features of quantum mechanics that we can’t capture, some features of this system that we know aren’t present in quantum mechanics. But are they philosophically distinct?”

    Tracking trajectories

    Bush believes that the Copenhagen interpretation sidesteps the technical challenge of calculating particles’ trajectories by denying that they exist. “The key question is whether a real quantum dynamics, of the general form suggested by de Broglie and the walking drops, might underlie quantum statistics,” he says. “While undoubtedly complex, it would replace the philosophical vagaries of quantum mechanics with a concrete dynamical theory.”

    Last year, Bush and one of his students — Jan Molacek, now at the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization — did for their system what the quantum pioneers couldn’t do for theirs: They derived an equation relating the dynamics of the pilot waves to the particles’ trajectories.

    In their work, Bush and Molacek had two advantages over the quantum pioneers, Bush says. First, in the fluidic system, both the bouncing droplet and its guiding wave are plainly visible. If the droplet passes through a slit in a barrier — as it does in the re-creation of a canonical quantum experiment — the researchers can accurately determine its location. The only way to perform a measurement on an atomic-scale particle is to strike it with another particle, which changes its velocity.

    The second advantage is the relatively recent development of chaos theory. Pioneered by MIT’s Edward Lorenz in the 1960s, chaos theory holds that many macroscopic physical systems are so sensitive to initial conditions that, even though they can be described by a deterministic theory, they evolve in unpredictable ways. A weather-system model, for instance, might yield entirely different results if the wind speed at a particular location at a particular time is 10.01 mph or 10.02 mph.

    The fluidic pilot-wave system is also chaotic. It’s impossible to measure a bouncing droplet’s position accurately enough to predict its trajectory very far into the future. But in a recent series of papers, Bush, MIT professor of applied mathematics Ruben Rosales, and graduate students Anand Oza and Dan Harris applied their pilot-wave theory to show how chaotic pilot-wave dynamics leads to the quantumlike statistics observed in their experiments.

    What’s real?

    In a review article appearing in the Annual Review of Fluid Mechanics, Bush explores the connection between Couder’s fluidic system and the quantum pilot-wave theories proposed by de Broglie and others.

    The Copenhagen interpretation is essentially the assertion that in the quantum realm, there is no description deeper than the statistical one. When a measurement is made on a quantum particle, and the wave form collapses, the determinate state that the particle assumes is totally random. According to the Copenhagen interpretation, the statistics don’t just describe the reality; they are the reality.

    But despite the ascendancy of the Copenhagen interpretation, the intuition that physical objects, no matter how small, can be in only one location at a time has been difficult for physicists to shake. Albert Einstein, who famously doubted that God plays dice with the universe, worked for a time on what he called a “ghost wave” theory of quantum mechanics, thought to be an elaboration of de Broglie’s theory. In his 1976 Nobel Prize lecture, Murray Gell-Mann declared that Niels Bohr, the chief exponent of the Copenhagen interpretation, “brainwashed an entire generation of physicists into believing that the problem had been solved.” John Bell, the Irish physicist whose famous theorem is often mistakenly taken to repudiate all “hidden-variable” accounts of quantum mechanics, was, in fact, himself a proponent of pilot-wave theory. “It is a great mystery to me that it was so soundly ignored,” he said.

    Then there’s David Griffiths, a physicist whose Introduction to Quantum Mechanics is standard in the field. In that book’s afterword, Griffiths says that the Copenhagen interpretation “has stood the test of time and emerged unscathed from every experimental challenge.” Nonetheless, he concludes, “It is entirely possible that future generations will look back, from the vantage point of a more sophisticated theory, and wonder how we could have been so gullible.”

    “The work of Yves Couder and the related work of John Bush … provides the possibility of understanding previously incomprehensible quantum phenomena, involving ‘wave-particle duality,’ in purely classical terms,” says Keith Moffatt, a professor emeritus of mathematical physics at Cambridge University. “I think the work is brilliant, one of the most exciting developments in fluid mechanics of the current century.”

    See the full article here.

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  • richardmitnick 4:15 pm on September 4, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Quantum Mechanics   

    From PBS NOVA: “Quantum Physicists Catch a Pilot Wave” 



    Wed, 03 Sep 2014
    Jennifer Ouellette

    In October 1927, some of the greatest minds in physics gathered for the Fifth Solvay International Conference to debate the troubling implications of the then-nascent theory of quantum mechanics. A particularly contentious topic was the perplexing “wave-particle duality,” in which objects we typically think of as particles—like photons and electrons—exhibit wave-like properties as well, and things we think of as waves, like light, sometimes behave like particles.

    The French physicist Louis de Broglie proposed a means by which a photon or electron could behave like both a particle and a wave, complementary aspects of the same phenomenon. He reasoned that the particles could be carried along by what he dubbed “pilot waves”—fluid-like ripples in space and time—much like a buoys bobbing along with the tide.


    De Broglie won the Nobel Prize in Physics just two years later, but it wasn’t for pilot waves. His contemporaries largely dismissed his explanation for the dual nature of subatomic particles. Now, more than 80 years later, a series of experiments on the behavior of oil droplets bouncing along a vibrating liquid surface have provided a macroscale analog of de Broglie’s pilot waves, replicating some of the stranger properties of quantum mechanics.

    Quantum mechanics seeks to describe nature at the level of individual atoms and the particles that comprise them. But when physicists began delving into this strange new realm at the dawn of the 20th century, they discovered that the old, deterministic laws of classical physics no longer apply at that scale. Instead, uncertainty reigns supreme. It is a world governed by probabilities, and many physicists found this disquieting, to say the least. Hence Albert Einstein’s famous declaration at the Solvay conference that God does not play dice with the universe, prompting Niels Bohr to counter, “Einstein, stop telling God what to do.”

    At the heart of the discomfort is the question of uncertainty. Flip a coin, and it will land either heads or tails; in principle, with complete information about the coin, the hand doing the flipping, and the movement of air molecules around the flip, it is possible to predict the outcome. In the quantum world, things hover in a fuzzy, nebulous cloud of probability called a wave function that encompasses all potential states, with no prospect of gaining further information. Flip a quantum coin, and it is both heads and tails until we look. Things become definite only when an observation forces them to settle on a specific outcome.

    To Einstein, the notion of observation dictating the outcome of an experiment was ridiculous, since it denied the existence of a solid underlying reality. Even [Erwin]Schrödinger, inventor of the wave function, was deeply disturbed by the implications of what he’d helped create, memorably declaring, “I don’t like it, and I’m sorry I ever had anything to do with it.”

    De Broglie’s alternative pilot wave theory was an attempt to restore that underlying solid reality. Instead of the wave function, de Broglie’s pilot wave theory employs two equations, one describing an actual wave and the other describing the path of an actual particle and how it interacts with, and is guided by, the wave equation. It is deterministic, like a classical coin flip. In principle, at least, we can glean sufficient information to plot a particle’s path, something that is not allowed in Bohr’s interpretation of quantum mechanics.

    While the idea of pilot wave theory never really caught on, it stubbornly refused to die. A physicist named David Bohm proposed a modified version in the 1950s that also failed to gain much traction. But perhaps the pilot wave’s time has come at last.

    The latest resurgence of interest began in Paris about ten years ago, when Yves Couder and Emmanuel Fort of Diderot University started experimenting with oil droplets bounced off a vat of vibrating liquid. The droplet’s impact causes waves to ripple outward, like tossing a pebble in a pond. If the liquid in the vat vibrates at just the right frequency, usually quite close to the droplet’s natural resonant frequency, the droplet interacts with the ripples it creates as it bounces along, which in turn can affect its path. That’s eerily similar to de Broglie’s notion of a pilot wave. Such a system turns out to be a fantastic means for simulating weird quantum effects like the dual nature of light and matter.

    The 19th century physicist Thomas Young demonstrated this with his famous double-slit experiment. In the double slit experiment, a series of photons or electrons strike a screen with two slits in it before landing on a detector behind the screen. If you consider photons and electrons to be particles, you would expect the detector light up along the path through the slits and nowhere else. But that’s not what Young found. Instead, Young discovered an interference pattern of alternating light and dark bands, suggesting that the would-be particles were acting like water waves passing through a barrier wall with two openings. But if one places detectors near the slits to “see” which slit each particle went through, then the interference pattern disappears—the waves start acting like particles. It is the essence of quantum weirdness.

    Couder and Fort replicated Young’s experiment by steering their bouncing droplets toward such a screen with a slit, helped along by the pilot waves created by the vibrating liquid. While they appear to scatter randomly as they pass through the slit, over time, wavy interference patterns emerge. “Guided” by the pilot waves, the droplets appear to be drawn to those regions where the wavefronts add together, and steer clear of those regions where the wavefronts cancel each other out. Disturbing the pilot wave destroys the interference pattern, much like measuring the path of particles as they hit the screen does.

    Last year, pilot wave theory received another boost when MIT physicists Daniel Harris and John Bush used a similar fluid system to mimic a “quantum corral,” in which electrons are trapped within a ring of ions. Harris and Bush made a shallow tray with a circle-shaped trough in the center to serve as the walls of the “corral.” They filled the tray with silicon oil and mounted it on a vibrating stand tuned to a frequency just shy of that required to produce pilot waves spontaneously, without the droplet, according to Bush. Above that threshold, the roiling sea of waves will interfere with the droplet’s walk. Below it, the surface remains smooth except for the waves produced by the bouncing droplet. The closer one tunes the vibrations to that threshold, the more robust and long-lived the generated pilot waves will be.

    When the bouncing droplet produced waves, those waves bounced off the walls and interfered with each other, producing pretty interference patterns. They also affected the trajectory of the droplet. At first it looked like it was bouncing along randomly, but over time (around 20 minutes), the droplet was far more likely to drift towards the center of the circle, and increasingly less likely to be found in the rippling rings spreading out from that center. That probability distribution for the single droplet proved very similar to that of an electron trapped in a quantum corral.

    The droplet experiments provide an intriguing analogue or “toy model” for de Broglie’s pilot waves, but there is still no direct evidence of pilot waves at the quantum scale. “Time will tell whether the quantum-like behavior of the walking dropets is mere coincidence,” Bush told me via email. Also, the theory is currently limited to describing the simplest interactions between particles and electromagnetic fields. “It is not by itself capable of representing very much physics,” Oxford University physics philosopher David Wallace told Quanta earlier this year. “In my own view, this is the most severe problem for the theory, though, to be fair, it remains an active research area.”

    Nobody is claiming that quantum mechanics is wrong; there is too much experimental evidence that the equations do make accurate predictions about how things work at the subatomic scale. But the implications of the standard interpretations remain troubling. The pioneers of quantum mechanics came up with the most plausible theory they could, given the resources they had, and they transformed modern physics in the process. Contemplating the possibility of pilot wave theory might lead to a fresh interpretation of quantum weirdness, one that prompts physicists to rethink their longstanding assumptions about the true nature of the quantum world. Another transformation could be lurking in the wings.

    See the full article, with video, here.

    NOVA is the highest rated science series on television and the most watched documentary series on public television. It is also one of television’s most acclaimed series, having won every major television award, most of them many times over.

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  • richardmitnick 2:21 pm on August 19, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Quantum Mechanics, ,   

    From Quanta: “At Multiverse Impasse, a New Theory of Scale” 

    Quanta Magazine
    Quanta Magazine

    August 18, 2014
    Natalie Wolchover

    Mass and length may not be fundamental properties of nature, according to new ideas bubbling out of the multiverse.

    Though galaxies look larger than atoms and elephants appear to outweigh ants, some physicists have begun to suspect that size differences are illusory. Perhaps the fundamental description of the universe does not include the concepts of “mass” and “length,” implying that at its core, nature lacks a sense of scale.

    This little-explored idea, known as scale symmetry, constitutes a radical departure from long-standing assumptions about how elementary particles acquire their properties. But it has recently emerged as a common theme of numerous talks and papers by respected particle physicists. With their field stuck at a nasty impasse, the researchers have returned to the master equations that describe the known particles and their interactions, and are asking: What happens when you erase the terms in the equations having to do with mass and length?

    Nature, at the deepest level, may not differentiate between scales. With scale symmetry, physicists start with a basic equation that sets forth a massless collection of particles, each a unique confluence of characteristics such as whether it is matter or antimatter and has positive or negative electric charge. As these particles attract and repel one another and the effects of their interactions cascade like dominoes through the calculations, scale symmetry “breaks,” and masses and lengths spontaneously arise.

    Similar dynamical effects generate 99 percent of the mass in the visible universe. Protons and neutrons are amalgams — each one a trio of lightweight elementary particles called quarks. The energy used to hold these quarks together gives them a combined mass that is around 100 times more than the sum of the parts. “Most of the mass that we see is generated in this way, so we are interested in seeing if it’s possible to generate all mass in this way,” said Alberto Salvio, a particle physicist at the Autonomous University of Madrid and the co-author of a recent paper on a scale-symmetric theory of nature.

    In the equations of the “Standard Model of particle physics”, only a particle discovered in 2012, called the Higgs boson, comes equipped with mass from the get-go. According to a theory developed 50 years ago by the British physicist Peter Higgs and associates, it doles out mass to other elementary particles through its interactions with them. Electrons, W and Z bosons, individual quarks and so on: All their masses are believed to derive from the Higgs boson — and, in a feedback effect, they simultaneously dial the Higgs mass up or down, too.

    The Standard Model of elementary particles, with the three generations of matter, gauge bosons in the fourth column, and the Higgs boson in the fifth.

    The new scale symmetry approach rewrites the beginning of that story.

    Alessandro Strumia of the University of Pisa, pictured speaking at a conference in 2013, has co-developed a scale-symmetric theory of particle physics called “agravity.” Thomas Lin/Quanta Magazine

    “The idea is that maybe even the Higgs mass is not really there,” said Alessandro Strumia, a particle physicist at the University of Pisa in Italy. “It can be understood with some dynamics.”

    The concept seems far-fetched, but it is garnering interest at a time of widespread soul-searching in the field. When the Large Hadron Collider at CERN Laboratory in Geneva closed down for upgrades in early 2013, its collisions had failed to yield any of dozens of particles that many theorists had included in their equations for more than 30 years. The grand flop suggests that researchers may have taken a wrong turn decades ago in their understanding of how to calculate the masses of particles.

    “We’re not in a position where we can afford to be particularly arrogant about our understanding of what the laws of nature must look like,” said Michael Dine, a professor of physics at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who has been following the new work on scale symmetry. “Things that I might have been skeptical about before, I’m willing to entertain.”

    The Giant Higgs Problem

    The scale symmetry approach traces back to 1995, when William Bardeen, a theoretical physicist at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Ill., showed that the mass of the Higgs boson and the other Standard Model particles could be calculated as consequences of spontaneous scale-symmetry breaking. But at the time, Bardeen’s approach failed to catch on. The delicate balance of his calculations seemed easy to spoil when researchers attempted to incorporate new, undiscovered particles, like those that have been posited to explain the mysteries of dark matter and gravity.

    Instead, researchers gravitated toward another approach called “supersymmetry” that naturally predicted dozens of new particles. One or more of these particles could account for dark matter. And supersymmetry also provided a straightforward solution to a bookkeeping problem that has bedeviled researchers since the early days of the Standard Model.

    Supersymmetry standard model
    Standard Model of Supersymmetry

    In the standard approach to doing calculations, the Higgs boson’s interactions with other particles tend to elevate its mass toward the highest scales present in the equations, dragging the other particle masses up with it. “Quantum mechanics tries to make everybody democratic,” explained theoretical physicist Joe Lykken, deputy director of Fermilab and a collaborator of Bardeen’s. “Particles will even each other out through quantum mechanical effects.”

    This democratic tendency wouldn’t matter if the Standard Model particles were the end of the story. But physicists surmise that far beyond the Standard Model, at a scale about a billion billion times heavier known as the “Planck mass,” there exist unknown giants associated with gravity. These heavyweights would be expected to fatten up the Higgs boson — a process that would pull the mass of every other elementary particle up to the Planck scale. This hasn’t happened; instead, an unnatural hierarchy seems to separate the lightweight Standard Model particles and the Planck mass.

    With his scale symmetry approach, Bardeen calculated the Standard Model masses in a novel way that did not involve them smearing toward the highest scales. From his perspective, the lightweight Higgs seemed perfectly natural. Still, it wasn’t clear how he could incorporate Planck-scale gravitational effects into his calculations.

    Meanwhile, supersymmetry used standard mathematical techniques, and dealt with the hierarchy between the Standard Model and the Planck scale directly. Supersymmetry posits the existence of a missing twin particle for every particle found in nature. If for each particle the Higgs boson encounters (such as an electron) it also meets that particle’s slightly heavier twin (the hypothetical “selectron”), the combined effects would nearly cancel out, preventing the Higgs mass from ballooning toward the highest scales. Like the physical equivalent of x + (–x) ≈ 0, supersymmetry would protect the small but non-zero mass of the Higgs boson. The theory seemed like the perfect missing ingredient to explain the masses of the Standard Model — so perfect that without it, some theorists say the universe simply doesn’t make sense.

    Yet decades after their prediction, none of the supersymmetric particles have been found. “That’s what the Large Hadron Collider has been looking for, but it hasn’t seen anything,” said Savas Dimopoulos, a professor of particle physics at Stanford University who helped develop the supersymmetry hypothesis in the early 1980s. “Somehow, the Higgs is not protected.”

    The LHC will continue probing for convoluted versions of supersymmetry when it switches back on next year, but many physicists have grown increasingly convinced that the theory has failed. Just last month at the International Conference of High-Energy Physics in Valencia, Spain, researchers analyzing the largest data set yet from the LHC found no evidence of supersymmetric particles. (The data also strongly disfavors an alternative proposal called “technicolor.”)

    The multiverse hypothesis has surged in begrudging popularity in recent years. But the argument feels like a cop-out to many, or at least a huge letdown.

    The implications are enormous. Without supersymmetry, the Higgs boson mass seems as if it is reduced not by mirror-image effects but by random and improbable cancellations between unrelated numbers — essentially, the initial mass of the Higgs seems to exactly counterbalance the huge contributions to its mass from gluons, quarks, gravitational states and all the rest. And if the universe is improbable, then many physicists argue that it must be one universe of many: just a rare bubble in an endless, foaming “multiverse.” We observe this particular bubble, the reasoning goes, not because its properties make sense, but because its peculiar Higgs boson is conducive to the formation of atoms and, thus, the rise of life. More typical bubbles, with their Planck-size Higgs bosons, are uninhabitable.

    “It’s not a very satisfying explanation, but there’s not a lot out there,” Dine said.

    As the logical conclusion of prevailing assumptions, the multiverse hypothesis has surged in begrudging popularity in recent years. But the argument feels like a cop-out to many, or at least a huge letdown. A universe shaped by chance cancellations eludes understanding, and the existence of unreachable, alien universes may be impossible to prove. “And it’s pretty unsatisfactory to use the multiverse hypothesis to explain only things we don’t understand,” said Graham Ross, an emeritus professor of theoretical physics at the University of Oxford.

    The multiverse ennui can’t last forever.

    “People are forced to adjust,” said Manfred Lindner, a professor of physics and director of the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear Physics in Heidelberg who has co-authored several new papers on the scale symmetry approach. The basic equations of particle physics need something extra to rein in the Higgs boson, and supersymmetry may not be it. Theorists like Lindner have started asking, “Is there another symmetry that could do the job, without creating this huge amount of particles we didn’t see?”

    Wrestling Ghosts

    Picking up where Bardeen left off, researchers like Salvio, Strumia and Lindner now think scale symmetry may be the best hope for explaining the small mass of the Higgs boson. “For me, doing real computations is more interesting than doing philosophy of multiverse,” said Strumia, “even if it is possible that this multiverse could be right.”

    For a scale-symmetric theory to work, it must account for both the small masses of the Standard Model and the gargantuan masses associated with gravity. In the ordinary approach to doing the calculations, both scales are put in by hand at the beginning, and when they connect in the equations, they try to even each other out. But in the new approach, both scales must arise dynamically — and separately — starting from nothing.

    “The statement that gravity might not affect the Higgs mass is very revolutionary,” Dimopoulos said.

    A theory called “agravity” (for “adimensional gravity”) developed by Salvio and Strumia may be the most concrete realization of the scale symmetry idea thus far. Agravity weaves the laws of physics at all scales into a single, cohesive picture in which the Higgs mass and the Planck mass both arise through separate dynamical effects. As detailed in June in the Journal of High-Energy Physics, agravity also offers an explanation for why the universe inflated into existence in the first place. According to the theory, scale-symmetry breaking would have caused an exponential expansion in the size of space-time during the Big Bang.

    However, the theory has what most experts consider a serious flaw: It requires the existence of strange particle-like entities called “ghosts.” Ghosts either have negative energies or negative probabilities of existing — both of which wreck havoc on the equations of the quantum world.

    “Negative probabilities rule out the probabilistic interpretation of quantum mechanics, so that’s a dreadful option,” said Kelly Stelle, a theoretical particle physicist at Imperial College, London, who first showed in 1977 that certain gravity theories give rise to ghosts. Such theories can only work, Stelle said, if the ghosts somehow decouple from the other particles and keep to themselves. “Many attempts have been made along these lines; it’s not a dead subject, just rather technical and without much joy,” he said.

    Marcela Carena, a senior scientist at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Ill.Courtesy of Marcela Carena

    Strumia and Salvio think that, given all the advantages of agravity, ghosts deserve a second chance. “When antimatter particles were first considered in equations, they seemed like negative energy,” Strumia said. “They seemed nonsense. Maybe these ghosts seem nonsense but one can find some sensible interpretation.”

    Meanwhile, other groups are crafting their own scale-symmetric theories. Lindner and colleagues have proposed a model with a new “hidden sector” of particles, while Bardeen, Lykken, Marcela Carena and Martin Bauer of Fermilab and Wolfgang Altmannshofer of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Canada, argue in an Aug. 14 paper that the scales of the Standard Model and gravity are separated as if by a phase transition. The researchers have identified a mass scale where the Higgs boson stops interacting with other particles, causing their masses to drop to zero. It is at this scale-free point that a phase change-like crossover occurs. And just as water behaves differently than ice, different sets of self-contained laws operate above and below this critical point.

    To get around the lack of scales, the new models require a calculation technique that some experts consider mathematically dubious, and in general, few will say what they really think of the whole approach. It is too different, too new. But agravity and the other scale symmetric models each predict the existence of new particles beyond the Standard Model, and so future collisions at the upgraded LHC will help test the ideas.

    In the meantime, there’s a sense of rekindling hope.

    “Maybe our mathematics is wrong,” Dine said. “If the alternative is the multiverse landscape, that is a pretty drastic step, so, sure — let’s see what else might be.

    See the full article here.

    Formerly known as Simons Science News, Quanta Magazine is an editorially independent online publication launched by the Simons Foundation to enhance public understanding of science. Why Quanta? Albert Einstein called photons “quanta of light.” Our goal is to “illuminate science.” At Quanta Magazine, scientific accuracy is every bit as important as telling a good story. All of our articles are meticulously researched, reported, edited, copy-edited and fact-checked.

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